On the lack of edginess and the double standard in music

Most of my favorite artists were and are outlaws, people who weren't afraid of boundaries or of stepping over them. Sadly, because of political correctness, much of this has been lost. I'm not talking about artists who set out to be offensive or shocking just for the hell of it. I'm talking about music that doesn't mind stepping on toes to prove a larger point or to break a taboo without fear of backlash. I'm referring to music that came from the artist's heart and not society's rulebook.

The biggest problem with today's society is the fear of the First Amendment and, as I noted, that attitude has slowly permeated into music. There was a time when Phil Ochs was unafraid to stand alone on stage with his guitar and tell the President to "find another country to be part of." There was a time when Dylan would write a line directed at the nation's leaders saying "I hope that you die and your death will come soon" and told them that "even Jesus would never forgive what you do." Just to make sure I'm not seen solely as a leftist writer, there was also a time when the Hag could politely tell the hippies "if you don't love it, leave it."

Now the Dixie Chicks are political icons, rebels, and the subject of a (great) documentary film. However, if they were around in 1967 and Natalie Maines had said exactly what she did on stage in 2003 (including the Texas part), not a single member of the audience would have blinked an eye. It would have been quite tame, in fact. But in today's watered-down politically correct society any diversion from the official story is seen as treasonous by one side and you get radio stations sponsoring CD burnings, while the other side makes you out to be a hero.

From that point on, every major artist who spoke out on Bush or the War in Iraq was told by the media and the right to shut up and sing (one prominent artist went as far as to call the participants in the 2004 Vote for Change Tour "treasonous morons") while the left would point out the First Amendment.

Now that the left is in control they have become everything they hated about the eight years of Bush. I mean that in more ways than one, but given the purpose of this site, I'll keep it about music as much as possible.

Which brings me to Moe Tucker and the treatment she has received from various blogs. Ms. Tucker was, as you should know, the drummer for the Velvet Underground and this week it came to light that she is also a supporter of the Tea Party.

As some of you know, Ms. Tucker and I probably don't see eye-to-eye politically. I believe that the Tea Party has some great goals, some bad ones, and they place entirely too much blame on one man, when the fact is that both sides have screwed over the American people for decades and will continue to do so until we rise up and fix it ourselves. But I'm not going to attack Ms. Tucker the way others have today; she is entitled to her own views just as you and I are and as music fans our hope should be that she can turn those views into a song as great as "Okie from Muskogee."

But the much larger point is that today's politically correct society has made the possibility of her (or a liberal artist, for that matter) creating a great protest song very slim. Which brings me to another recent story.

It is outrageous that Roger Waters has chosen to use the juxtaposition of a Jewish Star of David with the symbol of dollar signs. While he insists that his intent was to criticize Israel's West Bank security fence, the use of such imagery in a concert setting seems to leave the message open to interpretation, and the meaning could easily be misunderstood as a comment about Jews and money.

Of course Waters has every right to express his political views about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through his music and stagecraft. However, the images he has chosen, when put together in the same sequence, cross a line into anti-Semitism.

We wish that Waters had chosen some other way to convey his political views without playing into and dredging up the worst age-old anti-Semitic stereotype about Jews and their supposed obsession with making money.
- Abraham H. Foxman, director of the Anti-Defamation League

Here is Roger Waters' response:

It's a screen that they hide behind. I don't think they should be taken seriously on that. You can attack Israeli policy without being anti-Jewish.

It's like saying if you criticise the US policy you are being anti-Christian. I'm critical of the Israeli policy of occupying Palestinian land and their policy of building settlements, which is entirely illegal under international law, and also of ghettoising the people whose land they are building on.

It's that foreign policy I'm against. It's nothing to do with the religion.

Mr. Foxman obviously has no understanding of art, but his attempt to regulate free speech is, well, just another brick in the wall we are building around our society. A wall intended to keep ourselves safe from all forms of hate, but what it's really doing is making discussion of these very real problems taboo, and thus unresolvable (and, for the record, I disagree with Roger Waters to a certain extent).

In this society, we can't let the kids hear something which may make them think or question the official story the media wants to portray. We can't make them think past the literal meanings and discover layers of depth and feeling, which is why we get songs like "Drop the World" instead of "In the Flesh." The former talks about Lil Wayne's intention to "pick the world up and drop it on your fuckin' head." The latter, like the rest of the album, displays great lyrical subtlety about war, the way we raise our children, our school systems in the modern age, and also happens to contain this line that very few (10 or less) of today's entertainers would have the guts to even consider singing.

"Are there any queers in the theater tonight?," the verse begins, "Get them up against the wall/There's one in the spotlight, he don't look right to me/Get him up against the wall/That one looks Jewish/And that one's a coon/Who let all of this riffraff into the room?/There's one smoking a joint/And another with spots/If I had my way, I'd have all of you shot."

Obviously if Waters were serious and not cleverly using his lyrics to make a point about society's perception of hate, the ADL would have something to bitch about, but as it stands now they are simply ignoring the subtext of the album and focusing on the literal meaning. I would love to hear modern pop culture's interpretation of Mark Twain's great short story "The War Prayer" or numerous other pieces of art that require actual rational thought.

Have we really became this damn stupid?

In honor of a society with no balls, I offer this playlist of songs that wouldn't go over today. Feel free to add to the list.

Elvis Presley- "Hard-Headed Woman"
John Lennon- "Woman is the Nigger of the World"
Pink Floyd- apparently anything
Uncle Dave Macon- entire discography
Emmett Miller- entire discography
Son House- "My Black Mama"
Bob Dylan- "Masters of War"
CCR-- "Fortunate Son"
The Band- "The Night they Drove Old Dixie Down"
Phil Ochs- anything
The Velvet Underground- "Heroin"
J.J. Cale/Eric Clapton- "Cocaine"
Warren Smith- "Ubangi Stomp"
Donovan- "Universal Soldier"
The Rolling Stones- "Brown Sugar"
Merle Haggard- "The Fightin' Side of Me"
Patti Smith- "Rock 'n Roll Nigger"
Chuck Berry- "Sweet Little Sixteen"
Black Sabbath- "War Pigs"
Waylon Jennings- "Ain't No God in Mexico"
The Rolling Stones- "Brown Sugar"
Lou Reed- "Walk on the Wild Side"
Neil Young- "Southern Man"
Lynyrd Skynyrd- "Sweet Home Alabama"
Alice Cooper- literally anything, but especially the one about blowing up the school
The Ramones- "Beat on the Brat"
Guns n' Roses- "Welcome to the Jungle"
The Doors- "WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat)"
Them- "Gloria"
James Brown- "It's a Man's Man's Man's World" and "Say It Loud- I'm Black and Proud"
Patsy Cline- "Crazy" (retitled "Mentally Disturbed")
Public Enemy- "Fight the Power"

Views: 95

Comment by Jack Williams on October 5, 2010 at 5:58pm
James McMurtry - We Can't Make It Here
Ram Jam - Black Betty
R.L. Burnside - Po Black Mattie
Nick Cave - Stagger Lee, O'Malley's Bar
Rolling Stones - Some Girls
Nick Curran - Kill My Baby, Psycho
Lou Reed - The Blue Mask, Dirty Boulevard
Ramones - The KKK Took My Baby Away
The Clash - White Riot
Sex Pistols - God Save the Queen
Pretenders - Tattooed Love Boys
Elvis Costello - Radio, Radio, Tramp the Dirt Down, Two Little Hitlers
Graham Parker - You Can't Be Too Strong
Grinderman - No Pussy Blues
Bob Dylan - Masters of War, Ballad of Hollis Brown
Richard Thompson - Feel So Good, Read About Love
Tom Robinson Band - Power In the Darkness, Glad to be Gay
Comment by Adam Sheets on October 5, 2010 at 7:50pm
A major one I forgot: Johnny Burnette/Ringo Starr- "You're Sixteen"
Comment by Jack Williams on October 6, 2010 at 7:07am
I see one of my songs made the list! Just kidding. I'm not that Jack Williams. I remember seeing someone open for Steve Forbert (I forget his name. He was quite good , though) and he played a song by one of his favorite songwriters called Jack Williams. He played Mama Lou, which is just a great song. Shortly, saw the album in Tower and had to pick it up.
Comment by Rudyjeep on October 6, 2010 at 7:08am
I know what your saying Adam and while I mostly agree with your point about political content. I think the bar to what used to be considered offensive or obscene content is much lower though. There are two reasons. First, people are coarser and not as sensitive to what used to what would used to considered offensive language and overtly sexual content. Also, people don't pay that much attention to the lyrics of most of the songs. You know.....the people who think REM's "The One I love" is a date song. I'm not sure the meaning really penetrates their consciousness.

I know one area political correctness has changed beer jingles, though. One of the best of all time, the Schaefer jingle where they would sing "Schaefer is the one beer to have when you're having more than one" could never get on the air today. About a decade ago, they tried to revive it and now it was "the one beer to have when it's time to have some fun". Definitely not the same.
Comment by Jack Williams on October 6, 2010 at 7:39am
Or that Born in the USA is a patriotic song.

I don't completely agree with Mr Waters' analysis of the ADL's reaction , though. First , Israel is a Jewish state, whereas the US is a nation predominantly made up of Christians. The Star of David is a religious symbol and it's right there on the Israeli flag. No cross on our flag. Second, the ADL response doesn't seem to take issue with his criticism of Israel , but with the juxtaposition of the two symbols (Star of David and $ sign). I have to admit that if I saw them together, the very first thing I would think of would be that age old stereotype. My guess is that the ADL feels that it must be vigilant against this type of stereotyping. Having said that, I do get frustrated when any criticism of Israel is labeled as Anti-Semitism or when a Jewish person critical of Israel is accused of self hatred. Similar examples are branding anyone with misgivings about affirmative action a racist or anyone who was critical of the Bush administration a traitor. So, I agree with the overall point you are making. I just take issue with the Roger Waters episode as an example.
Comment by Adam Sheets on October 6, 2010 at 8:31am
As I pointed out (after I re-edited this blog) , I also disagree with some of Roger Waters' views on Israel, but the reason I pointed to his lyrics from "In the Flesh" is to show that the juxtaposition, if he was even aware of it, was meant to artistically examine the thoughts of racists or anti-Semites and not as evidence of his own views.
Comment by Jack Williams on October 6, 2010 at 8:47am
Adam, just so I understand you, are you saying that the images were being displayed during the performance of that particular song? If so, then I would agree with your point. Context should matter.
Comment by Erika Lindsey on October 6, 2010 at 9:12am
Fuckin A. This loosely coincides with a entry I made today. Not nearly as wonderfully written as yours, but you may have helped open my eyes to the problem I was addressing. Music won't be like it used to be, because the masses won't allow the edge and forward thinking that bands during those times held. And it's truly a shame.
Comment by Jack Williams on October 6, 2010 at 10:25am
Looks like Roger Waters and the ADL have had some constructive dialog:

Roger Waters:



Comment by Hal Bogerd on October 6, 2010 at 10:39am
Regardless of their views on the First Amendment, why hasn't one artist stood up and said or sang "Fred Phelps is a &^%*ing moron"?


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Created by No Depression Feb 17, 2009 at 9:06pm. Last updated by No Depression Sep 24, 2012.